It seems like only yesterday that Democrats were frothing at the mouth about the “climate of abuse” that made possible the 2004 Abu Ghraib scandal that occurred while Lieutenant General Ricardo “Rick” Sanchez was the senior U.S. military commander in Iraq. The damage to Sanchez’s reputation was so severe, not only from Abu Ghraib but also from a general perception that he mismanaged the war effort in the crucial first year after the fall of Saddam Hussein, that any hope of promotion was blocked.
The New York Times, the leading voice of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, poured withering scorn on the very idea of giving Sanchez a four-star job, writing in one editorial that Sanchez “set aside American notions of decency and the Geneva Conventions” and that he was only “exonerated” on charges of serious misconduct because the investigations were “meant to keep the heat off top generals and civilian policy makers.”
That was then, this is now. On Saturday the Democratic Party chose guess who to deliver their weekly radio address. You got it: the general who has, wrongly or rightly, become the poster child for American military abuse.
The address was, as you might expect, a case study in chutzpah. Sanchez began: “I saw firsthand the consequences of the Administration’s failure to devise a strategy for victory in Iraq that employed, in a coordinated manner, the political, economic, diplomatic, and military power of the United States.” The criticism is fair enough, but there is a disturbing lack of a mea culpa given that Sanchez, as the senior general on the ground, shared fully in the failures of Bush and Rumsfeld and other higher-ups.
But what makes this far more disturbing than the usual attempt to deflect blame is that Sanchez didn’t acknowledge that anything has changed. “That failure continues today,” he went on. He makes no attempt to recognize the stunning successes scored by U.S. troops in recent months under the leadership of General David Petraeus and Lieutenant General Ray Odierno. Instead, Sanchez repeats the same old bromides about how “the keys to securing the future of Iraq” aren’t military action but “aggressive regional diplomacy, political reconciliation, and economic hope”—the very same thinking that underlies the failed strategy of the past four years, including the year that Sanchez presided over U.S. operations.
As if the surge had never taken place, Sanchez urges the U.S. to “move rapidly to minimize our force presence” and endorses legislation passed by House Democrats that would set a goal of withdrawing all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by December 15, 2008.
It is hard to know whether to laugh or cry at these pronouncements, considering their source. At the Warlord Loop, an online discussion forum of national security affairs to which I belong, it has been suggested that Sanchez’s address would be akin to having Custer opine on Indian relations or having General Lloyd Fredendall, the commander of U.S. forces when they were mauled at Kasserine Pass in 1943, critique his successor—George S. Patton.
The fact that the Democrats have now turned General Sanchez into their spokesman on Iraq suggests the sheer bankruptcy of their thinking on this pressing issue.